GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’s foreign minister voiced satisfaction on Tuesday that lawmakers in his country cleared the way for a referendum on whether to ask the world court to settle a nearly 200-year-old territorial dispute with neighboring Belize.
“For me, I would do it (the vote) tomorrow,” Carlos Raul Morales told EFE.
The two countries agreed in 2008 to submit their dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but the accord was never implemented because it proved impossible to satisfy the requirement that the respective populations endorse the pact in simultaneous referendums.
Last year, the parties signed an additional protocol allowing non-simultaneous plebiscites, but Guatemala’s congress did not ratify the revision until last Thursday.
“What is most important to both countries is the spirit to solve this disagreement, and we cannot leave it for another 1,000 or 2,000 years,” the foreign minister said.
The boundary between the two Central American countries is the object of a quarrel that goes back to 1820, when Guatemala became independent from Spain and Belize was a British colony.
Belize won independence in 1981, but Guatemala did not formally recognize its neighbor until 1991 and continues to claim more than half of the former British colony’s 22,965 square kilometers (8,867 square miles) of territory.
Once the congressional resolution is signed into law, Guatemala will formally notify Belize and the Organization of American States while seeking “the best moment” to hold the referendum, Morales said.
Ahead of the voting, the foreign ministry will work with the public schools and Guatemala’s largest public university, San Carlos, to educate young people on the issue, the minister said, pointing out that more than half the Guatemalan population is under 25.